Students at the University of Alabama in Huntsville have recently catapulted the study of medicine at the school’s College of Nursing into the future, using 3D printing technology to create the tools necessary for realistic medical training simulations.

As reported by the 3D Printing Industry, Dr. Lori Lioce, and Norvern Goddard, two scientists working at the university, used the school’s 3D printers to make new medical training tools after making note of this application for the technology. In order to do this, the two enlisted the help of several of their students from both computer science and engineering majors.

To start off, the team mapped out and printed a cricothyrotomy trainer or model for practicing procedures on the neck. Finding success, they printed four copies in total, enough for use in all the medical courses offered on campus. They also uploaded the designs online for free, allowing anyone who downloads them to print their own versions of the trainer. After that, they made both an onychectomy trainer (thumbnail procedure model) and a vein finder using low-cost open-source designs.

One of the advantages to 3D printing medical training tools like this is the adaptability inherent in the printing process. The high degree of customization allowable with the digital designs means more accurate and patient-specific models can be made, giving students more realistic experience during their learning.

Goddard says that, while each item made this way might cost quite a bit, it’s ultimately a cheaper alternative than buying them from a supplier. Additionally, the fact that they can use the school’s resources to print the tools helps to cut down on cost. In all, it’s estimated the College of Nursing managed to save around $6,000 for printing this equipment as opposed to ordering it.

Both the scientists and the student team plan to spread their knowledge to other schools, hoping to teach others how to 3D print supplies as an efficient way to save costs. Their future plans include an injection simulation pad and a 3D body model.

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